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An End of a Regal Era: Of Raj Kapoor's Legacy and the Old-school Charm of Single Screen Theaters

As Regal Cinema closed its doors, News18 spoke to the staff and went down the memory lane.

Shomini Sen, Kriti Tulsianishominisen

Updated:April 4, 2017, 4:45 PM IST
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Every Delhiite must have crossed the Regal at least once in their lifetime. Located at the heart of Connaught Place, the Regal Building - as it is popularly known as - not only has one of the city’s oldest movie theaters but also houses small shops right in front of its foyer, a few restaurants and the big Khadi store. It has, for generations, served as a meeting point for many people. Most have crossed without entering the theater or venturing inside the building. But on Thursday though, the same foyer was packed with people. A long queue led to the ticket counter and people were buying tickets for whichever show that they could get. It was the last day for the iconic theatre which, in its heydays, played host to stars like Raj Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Prithviraj Kapoor, Hema Malini and others.

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The theatre would be reconstructed and made into a multiplex. One of the last few single screen theatres to have survived the onslaught of multiplexes in past decades, Regal ultimately could not bear the excessive taxes that the Government has imposed on theatres. “In the past 7 months seven single screen cinema halls across the city have had to close their doors. When BJP came into power, they increased property tax by 100% and when Kejriwal came to power he increased 40% salary - how could we bear the cost in such a scenario?” said Joginder Mahajan, film distributor and treasurer of the Motion Picture Association.

Having been a part of the film business since 1984, Mahajan has seen the hall go through changes in his 10-year-long association with Regal cinema. “The owners have changed three times. It used to be a premiere hall at one point of time but later became a place for the common man. Our tickets are priced at Rs 100, Rs 80- which is cheap in this day and age.”

Started in 1932 the theatre earlier used to stage plays. Prithviraj Kapoor performed on the Regal stage and his son Raj, then a young boy, used to accompany him during his shows. Later when the the theatre started screening films, all of Raj Kapoor’s films were screened at the theater and “many even celebrated silver jubilee here,” pointed Mahajan. Since RK Films had a long standing association with Regal, on its last day, as an ode to the legendary actor-filmmaker, two of his films were screened in the hall- Mera Naam Joker and Sangam.

Another RK Films distributor recalled the golden days of the theater and said, “During the release of Bobby, people line up in front of the hall overnight. A lot of tickets were sold in black. The good thing about Kapoor family is that they know how to maintain their association. They used to ensure all their films would release here.”

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While the owners, the Mahajans, have decided to revamp the theater and make it a multiplex, the people who worked in the theater wished they had retained the single screen theater itself. “I wish the government had stepped in. They could save the theatre from shutting down. The charm of single screen is different. No multiplex can take that away,” said another official. “Its for the common man. No single screen theater can survive the new diktats of the government. Only Delite (in Daryaganj) may but I think they are running in losses too,” said Mahajan.

Closing of the theater would mean a lot of its staff would be left jobless. While the owners have decided to compensate them, many seemed unsure about their future. “Ek darwaaze band hoge, 10 khulte hai, mai dekhna chahta hoon ki 10va kaha khulta hai,” said Ravi Shukla who manned the canteen. Standing next to Shukla, G. Singh, while serving coffee said “Future abhi andhakar hai. I have been serving coffee here for the past 50 years. I only know this job. I don’t know what I will do after this.”

Both Shukla and Singh have witnessed stars inside the lobby, casually chatting, sitting on the stairs that lead to the hall, eating the canteen food. “Naseeruddin Shah came an shot for a film right here at the lobby once. We remember Hema Malini has stepped to have coffee during the premiere of her film Seeta Aur Geeta.”

A 360 degree view of the lobby area inside Regal Theatre

The lobby area bustled with media persons, college goers, and even wheelchair bound senior citizens. All wanted to be part of the history one last time. “I have never been to Regal. But since it is shutting down, I decided to come and watch a movie here,” said Monica, a resident of Lajpat Nagar who watched Anushka Sharma’s latest Phillauri with her mother and little son.

Chandra Dasgupta, a retired teacher, came to relive her college memories. “I remember watching some of Satyajit Ray’s movies in the morning show here during the 1970s. Because of its location, it was very easy to come here. When I heard that the hall is shutting down, I had to come to relive my childhood days.”

Inside the hall, rickety fans numbed the audio quality. You could see how the theatre was in a state of neglect for many years as the seats creaked at every movement. Outside, on a corridor that led to the hall, black and white photos of yesteryear stars like Meena Kumari, Dev Anand adorned the walls.

A 360 degree view of the Regal Theater

As we stepped out after the movie, we asked Ghanshyam, the security guard about the unusual rush on the last day. “In four years of my working here, I’ve seen full house before. Afternoon shows of Bajirao Mastani were full house for a week. But it is good to see people coming in for afternoon shows on the last day.”

(Get detailed and live results of each and every seat of the state Assemblies in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram to know which candidate/party is leading or trailing and to know who has won and who has lost and by what margin. Our one-of-its-kind Election Analytics Centre lets you put on the psephologist's hat. Know interesting facts and trivia about the elections. Elections = News18)
| Edited by: Shomini Sen
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